When you envision people who pack up and venture out west to “give it a go” in the music business, you probably also assume the main motivation in that process is commercial success.
For Xenia Dunford and The Eastern Exile, the desired end result of writing songs, recording music and playing gigs is simply creating a quality product that most people can relate to.
The band’s immediate goals are to travel and bring their music to as many people as possible—off the Sunset Strip.
“We are much happier creating the music that we are creating and bringing that to people, real people, all over,” said Dunford after a performance at The Viper Room in West Hollywood on Sept. 17.
The band hails from Boston, Mass., the birthplace of indie powerhouses like the Pixies, The Breeders and The Lemonheads.
Dunford and co. are also influenced from artists outside of beantown, including Carole King, Etta James, Johnny Cash and Laura Nyro.
“There are moments of my favorite songs that I can’t explain but I know are simply magical,” Dunford said. “That is something I take with me and try to recreate with my own music. That is my ultimate goal as a songwriter.”
The four-piece ensemble consists of Dunford (piano and lead vocals), Scotty Mlodzinski (lead guitar), Forrest Pettengill (bass) and Adam Farley (drums).
On record the quintet shakes out spices of jazz and country over its rock ‘n’ roll core.
The sound of up-tempo tracks are airy and crisp, characteristics that would represent their native New England well.
On the other hand, their slower songs resonate passion and mystery and sound downright haunting at times. Nonetheless, all of the tracks stand out as completely original compositions, a quality that is rare in music these days.
In the studio, Mlodzinski played a disciplined style of guitar. Mainly acoustic and clean sounding electrics, which captured the solitude and twang of the east.
Pettengill played a mellow style of bass that enabled his bandmates to weave instrumentally in and out of his sequences.
Farley, a locally-seasoned session drummer and artist, played at an impeccably subtle rate, heightening the band’s jazz flavor.
On the dimly-lit stage, audiences are captivated and transfixed by the essence of Dunford’s delivery and the spontaneous nature of the three musicians behind her.
“It’s all about being in the moment,” Dunford said on her band’s tendency to shake things up.
Dunford viewed this as an advantage over other bands. She added that listening to each other live helps her and her bandmates contribute to the overall development of the band.
On the night of their show at the Viper Room, the band chose to only play new songs.
“It has so much depth and it leaves very few musical stones unturned,” Dunford said about her new material.
The members of The Eastern Exile are now in the process of recording their first full-length album, in addition to the critically acclaimed Lonely Streets EP, which was released earlier this year.
Their song from their Xenia Dunford EP, “Killing Kind of Love,” is used in the current trailer for the hit show Revenge on ABC.
The band is collaborating with East Coast producer Charlton Pettus, who recently worked with Tears for Fears’ co-founder Curt Young on his solo projects.
“He’s affected how I play. I’ve learned a lot from him,” said Pettengill on working with Pettus.
Mlodzinski added that Pettus has been great for the band and his input in the recording process has been vital.
“He’s done this for long enough to know what’s the best way to come about a certain song,” said Mlodzinski. “Just having that experienced ear (in the studio) is important.”
Of the new cuts in the repertoire, there are two that stand out in particular.
The first song from their new material is “More Than You Know,” a bluesy, mid-tempo, subconsciously optimistic number with a chorus that robustly proclaims over and over, “They will see, they will see…”
“(The) song is about getting in touch with what is real; relationships, nature, all of the good stuff that we look over,” Dunford said.
The second song is “Rhyme and Reason,” which reveals itself in a more shadowy light than its predecessor.
This song is one of Dunford’s personal favorites because it consists of heartache and regret.
Dunford said the song is definitely a look into relationships and why some people just can’t get it right.
But adversely, she admitted the song is a “sun is always shining behind the clouds” type of song.
The central theme of “Rhyme and Reason” seems to be acceptance. Acceptance of life, acceptance of others, and the acceptance of self. A lesson that she and her bandmates have humbly learned over the last couple years.
As a traveling band, they might just roll through your town. Xenia Dunford and The Eastern Exile can be heard on Spotify, iTunes and via their website XeniaDunfordMusic.com.